STILL fretting about every detail of his Coronation in just six weeks, King Charles fears the slightest mishap could overshadow his reign.
Never in recent history has a British monarch on the eve of the 1,000-year-old ceremony in Westminster Abbey felt so vulnerable.
Cultivating the perfect image across the globe has provoked Charles to re-scrutinise every detail of the ancient ritual.
The King started planning his Coronation more than 20 years ago.
Uniquely in the world, the British monarch is actually crowned in front of the nation’s power brokers.
Seated on the oak Coronation Chair commissioned by Edward I in 1296, Charles will be anointed king with special oils prepared in the Holy Land, under a canopy of golden cloth held by four garter knights.
In previous centuries, that solemn ceremony was critical for the monarch’s survival, with barons and knights gathered in Westminster Abbey to pledge their loyalty to the new sovereign.
Even today, the monarchy’s existence still depends on public approval.
And never before in recent history has a new sovereign — at 74 the oldest ever to be crowned — needed the Coronation and the festivities over three days, starting on May 6, to seal public acceptance of his reign.
Charles’s dilemma is how to maintain traditional customs while appearing modern.
Over the past weeks, to reconcile the old and the new, Charles has repeatedly changed details which were agreed long ago.
Even now, he cannot decide whether to wear a uniform or be dressed in a gilded jacket and breeches.
But more important, he remains undecided about who should be included in the processions and even who should be invited.
Unlike the 7,000 VIPs who witnessed his mother’s coronation in 1953, only 2,000 will be inside the Abbey this time around.
He and Camilla are rehearsing every detail
To avoid a mishap, he and wife Camilla are rehearsing every detail of the formalities.
Nothing, Charles knows, could be worse than one billion viewers across the world watching the King trip on a step or allow the crown to unmajestically tilt.
But these potential pitfalls — significant as they are — are not his biggest concern.
His momentous day in the Abbey will be neither intimate nor personal.
In that Gothic atmosphere, the state occasion needs to symbolise powerfully Britain’s values and traditions.
Not only must Charles’s performance reinforce the monarchy’s importance and popularity but, he knows, that the impressions of that day will be used by future historians as their foundation to judge King Charles III’s reign.
Monarchs always impose an imprint of their reign on future generations.
Elizabeth I in the 16th Century personified an era, especially for defeating the Spanish Armada and laying the foundations of the British Empire.
Charles I is notorious for refusing to obey Parliament and being beheaded in Whitehall.
Queen Victoria, the Empress of India, epitomised Britain’s industrial dominance and the country’s peaceful path towards democracy.
Queen Elizabeth II is remembered for her supreme dignity — a steadfast anchor amid turbulence — and selfless dedication to preserve Britain’s global influence.
With just a few years available on the throne, our temperamental King is obsessed with how history will remember him.
While his mother trumped her reign’s multiple indignities and embarrassments — not least her children’s divorces, the mishandling of Diana’s death and Prince Andrew’s shame — by relying on the public’s love of their monarch, Charles understandably fears the precariousness of public opinion.
With his reputation stained by an acrimonious divorce and a messy relationship with his married mistress, he knows that in the wake of Diana’s death, there was serious doubt as to whether he should inherit the throne.
Until recently, he was the most unpopular heir in centuries — on one occasion his approval rating fell to four per cent.
Unlike the Queen, Charles failed over past decades to pose as a unifying symbol of stability to the country.
Not astute enough to create illusions or to resist rancour, Charles as Prince of Wales lacked his mother’s genius for concealing what she truly felt.
Not surprisingly, Charles hates the frequent references to Diana’s unhappiness, his adultery with Camilla and now the looming warfare with his son, Prince Harry.
He would so much prefer to be remembered as a man of influence, a Renaissance man outspokenly passionate about culture, social wellbeing and the environment.
Ever since he denounced in 1984 an extension to the National Gallery in London as “a monstrous carbuncle”, Charles has confronted interest groups — architectural, medical, agricultural, educational, religious, scientific and political.
None of his campaigns was initially more unpopular than his early championship of protecting the environment. And none has proved to be more perceptive.
Using his position, he protested against ugly skyscrapers blighting our cities, opposed farmers spraying dangerous chemicals on to their land, and urged better educational standards.
Leaving an enduring memory of his decency
Charles would like the image of his reign to be the Visionary King blessed for building a model village, Poundbury in Dorset, and for helping thousands of young people improve their lives through the pioneering Prince’s Trust and Dumfries House in Scotland.
To his credit, many Britons can recall his visits to schools, hospitals and hospices.
Carefully briefed, he talked engagingly to staff, pupils and patients, leaving them all with an enduring memory of his decency.
Unfortunately, much of the good he has accomplished has been undone by crackpot support for mystic spirituality and alternative medicine.
Boldly, he has urged doctors to cure cancer with coffee enemas.
By idolising the ancient world and rejecting many scientific ideas, he outraged the professions and politicians.
Provoking arguments was his pleasure, but only on his terms.
He refused to engage in debate. His forthright support for fox- hunting confirmed his reputation as an old fogey.
Few doubted the sincerity of his campaigns. His motives were good but the trouble he caused roused many, until recently, to doubt whether he was fit to be a modern king.
Out of sight of the public, his preciousness has provoked more ridicule.
One friend recalls going to Clarence House, his London home, for dinner after the theatre.
Camilla had told the staff to leave cold meat and salads on the sideboard.
“Let’s see what’s for dinner,” said Charles after finishing his martini.
He walked into the dining room and suddenly shrieked.
Fearing the worst, Camilla dashed in after him.
“What’s this?” trembled her husband, pointing at the food. “It’s clingfilm, darling,” she replied.
Among Britain’s aristocrats, Charles became an unwelcome guest.
Like an ancient monarch, he toured grand houses across the country — but unlike regular visitors, there was a twist.
In anticipation of his arrival to one friend in Northumberland, Charles’s staff appeared a day early with a truck carrying nothing less than Charles and Camilla’s complete bedrooms.
They installed everything, including his orthopaedic bed, complete with his own linen.
His staff made sure not to forget a small radio, the Prince’s lavatory seat and Kleenex Velvet paper, Laphroaig whisky and water, plus two landscapes of the Scottish Highlands.
The next delivery was his food.
More troubling was the Prince’s treatment of his staff.
Advisers knew that if they said “No” they would be fired and be replaced by someone who would say “Yes”.
Short-tempered and convinced of his superiority, Charles was until recently criticised for his outrageously expensive lifestyle.
He also still has hanging over him the police investigation following cash-for-honours allegations involving one of his charities.
With that 50-year legacy, the new king risks being remembered as Calamity Charles.
Both in their mid-seventies, he and Camilla do not naturally appeal to younger Britons.
Yet all those serious doubts evaporated after the Queen died.
With consummate skill, Charles and his staff suppressed the widespread prediction that the meddlesome prince’s accession to the throne would be difficult.
Charles plotted wife’s public acceptance
To his good fortune, Charles has enjoyed an unexpected honeymoon of popularity since last September.
His carefully rehearsed TV address after the Queen’s death, constantly rewritten over the previous four years, won him universal praise.
Equally fortunate for the King is that Camilla, so reviled for many years, has been accepted as the Queen by a majority of Britons.
That transformation was not accidental.
With astute manipulation of the media, Charles plotted his wife’s public acceptance.
Today, Camilla has become an invaluable support for the King.
In parallel, Buckingham Palace has promoted William and Kate as the monarchy’s future.
Exploiting their popularity at the Coronation will boost Charles’s status.
But that advantage will evaporate if the Duke and Duchess of Sussex grab the public’s attention over that weekend.
Ever since Megxit, Meghan and Harry have humiliated the King and the Royal Family.
Paralysed by fear and indecision, Charles has failed to suppress the Sussexes’ vile vitriol.
In calculating whether to allow the Sussexes to attend his Coronation, Charles has reverted to his familiar stance — dithering, worrying about his image.
Instead of outrightly telling Harry that his gross insults towards Camilla, and William and Kate, bar him from Westminster Abbey, Charles is prevaricating and forgetting that the Coronation is not a family affair — it is the most important event in the life of a monarch.
His challenge is to be hailed as the Visionary King rather than classed as the Caretaker King wearing the crown until the popular Cambridges inherit the throne.
With just six weeks before the historic day, the King needs to conjure a glorious image of his reign, and that means making many tough decisions.
- Tom Bower is author of Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion And Defiance Of King Charles.